Community leaders reject mooted changes to race hate laws

March 18, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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Representatives of the Indigenous, Greek, Jewish, Chinese, Arab, Armenian and Korean communities have expressed their “vehement opposition” to changes that have been mooted to sections of the Racial Discrimination Act which prohibit public conduct that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person or groups because of their skin colour or national or ethnic origin.

The group of representatives, including The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, was reacting to a story which appeared in The Australian today speculating that the Federal government proposes to remove the words “offend, insult, humiliate” from section 18C, as well as removing the requirement that a defendant must have acted “reasonably and in good faith” in order to be covered by the free speech defences available under section 18D.

Peter Wertheim

Peter Wertheim

“These changes would mean that the Federal government has decided to license the public humiliation of people because of their race”, said Peter Wertheim, the Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. “It would send a signal that people may spout racist abuse in public, no matter how unreasonably and dishonestly. It would be astonishing if an Australian government in the 21st century was prepared to embrace such a morally repugnant position. It would be utterly indefensible. The suggestion that section 18D might be amended by deleting the threshold of reasonableness and good faith comes as an especially unpleasant surprise to us”.

The group, which has been pursuing a vigorous campaign to dissuade Federal politicians against any repeal or watering down of Australia’s laws against racial vilification, vowed to step up its activities.

“The Racial Discrimination Act is one of Australia’s most iconic pieces of legislation. It goes to the heart of Australia’s identity as a nation that is both democratic and culturally diverse. The law ought not to be changed unless there are truly compelling reasons. The outcome of one contentious case falls a long way short in that regard”, Mr Wertheim said.

“Australia’s long term national interests in maintaining a harmonious society and the respect of neighbouring countries are being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency in order to score points in the so-called ‘culture wars’. It will leave a lasting stain on the legacy of the present government if they proceed with this”, Mr Wertheim predicted.

“The existing sections 18C and 18D were enacted in1995 after three national inquiries in Australia found that there is a nexus between racially vilifying conduct in public and racially-motivated violence. The two sections strike a careful balance between freedom from racial vilification and freedom of expression”.

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“Once people understand that the existing law only applies to serious cases and requires an objective test to be satisfied based on community standards, rather than a subject test based on hurt feelings, it becomes clear that the current law is about enabling targeted groups to defend themselves against racial vilification and has nothing to do with limiting free speech.”

“The law does not stop anybody from offending, insulting or humiliating others because of their conduct, opinions or beliefs. People can change their conduct, opinions or beliefs. But the current law does prohibit publicly offending, insulting or humiliating others because of their race, which is something people cannot change. Offending, insulting or humiliating other people because of their race is not about persuasion. It’s about attacking their human dignity”’, Mr Wertheim added.

It is expected that the government will table draft legislation before the Parliament within the next fortnight.

“The more extensive the proposed changes are, the stiffer the opposition to it will be”, Mr Wertheim predicted.

Endorsed by:

Ms Kirstie Parker, Co-chair, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

Mr Les Malezer, Co-chair, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

Mr Vache Kahramanian, Executive Director, Armenian National Committee of Australia

Ms Randa Kattan, CEO, Arab Council Australia
Mr Tony Pang, Secretary, Chinese Australian Services Society
Mr Luke Song, Korean Society of Sydney
Mr George Vellis, Co-ordinator, Australian Hellenic Council
Mr Patrick Voon, President, Chinese Australian Forum
Mr Peter Wertheim, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry

Comments

2 Responses to “Community leaders reject mooted changes to race hate laws”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    Liat
    Once again you are touching on a variety of closely related issues.
    With(out) your permission , I will try and disect and separate the issues and, then, with a bishele of mazel, arrive at some cogent conclusion.
    Yes, this Govt. is solidly engaged in changing the face(s) of Australia and reduce – yes reduce – its worth to the dogmatic vision we used to call the True Blue. ( observe the desuetude in which the True Blue” has fallen as it has been rendered obsolete by multiculturalism ).
    The relationship between immigration control and 18c is ideologically valid, yet, in strict legal/pragmatic terms they can be divided and looked up in isolation. That isolation may give legitimacy to the Govt. firm handling of ilegal immigration. It it simple legality. We do have laws relating to illegal entries into Australia. We ALSO have laws which prohibit vilification of certain types. 18C is one of them. Here we have the conflict of , let’s call it DYNAMICS of changes of consensus. Our current Gov. is attempting changing principles by altering laws. The overarching ethic of both laws is SECURITY. One is called “border” the other one has a more distinct “ethical” aspect. It pertains to the manner in which people are EXPECTED to have social intercourse.
    Are LAWS meant to constantly adjust social conduct !!? Definitely YES !!! Laws define social conduct, to be sure. If the very notion of vilification is contain in our social lexicon it, most definitely and best defined, must be observed in all its possible manifestations. 18C is but an integral part of it.
    In our little story our Gov. applies one strict laws – immigration – while discarding another one which is necessarily part and parcel of the same Governing principle. Question , then would be, if we are to relax “free speech” by abolishing 18C why not relax FREE IMMIGRATION, by abolishing whatever bloody laws which allow for the Manus Island to exist !!!???
    Ask Tim Wilson this stuff – actually DO NOT ask Tim anything !!!
    Ask Mr Brandis this – actually DO NOT ask Brandis anything
    Ask Tony Abbott this – actually do not ask Tony anything

    You know what, ask me all of the above and I promise to come up with an even larger, more enticing comment simply because all these comments, arguments, calls and conveniences are to be consumed strictly between us, so called concerned citizens, because those capable of any obscene legal obstructions shall proceed regardless, with arrogant impunity.

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    Morally repugnant is exactly what the Coalition Government is. This shows itself not only in what they seek to do with clause 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, but also with their brutal, inflexible policies in relation to refugees coming to Australia by boat; one could also add the heartless cuts being made in funding right across the welfare system that will end in causing vulnerable people even more stress and poverty than they already experience. ‘We’re open for business’ says Tony Abbott when addressing international leaders in Switzerland some weeks back – business, and a surplus to be achieved despite anything, is all this Government cares about.
    They need to be reminded in no uncertain terms that it’s people who matter in the final analysis. People should not be slaves to the economy, rather the economy should be fashioned in regard to the best interests of a sustainable life for people. They should be forced to confront the fact that people vulnerable to racial abuse or to the ongoing insidious effects of unemployment and lack of equitable living in this country, need special consideration. That special consideration is contained within clause 18c as it stands now, and should not be tampered with.
    Abbott and his crew are real Darwinists, despite some that have active Christian belief – they believe in the survival of the fittest, and for the rest, let dog eat dog. Truly disgusting. I am shocked nearly everyday by yet another news item reported that is evidence of the absolute disregard for humanity that the current Government has.

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